SLITHER came as a happy surprise for me, as I hadn't bothered seeing it in the theaters in its original release. When it comes to horror movies I likes to take 'em either on TV or with the right audience, but as it turned out, SLITHER wasn't one of those completely freakout horror movies, as we've now come to expect from the likes of SAW or CUBE or POOT or whatever one-word title we're using these days.
The movie turned out to be one of those over-the-top, not-taking-itself-seriously romps along the lines of TREMORS or EIGHT-LEGGED FREAKS, and even had Rob Zombie, quite the horror aficionado, in a voice cameo. SLITHER delighted in taking various sci-fi horror tropes -- the meteorshit in the woods, the body snatchers, the zombie invasion, the small-town police -- and then throws in FREAKY HIVEMIND SLUG CREATURES for good measure. Nathan Fillion plays the aforementioned small-town police guy, a sort of Police Chief Mal Reynolds only this time he gets to cuss in English instead of Chinese nadsat. He has a knack for getting just the right phrasing out of "Okay, what the fuck was that shit?" just as we're thinking exactly the same thing.
I liked SLITHER for its concept of the hivemind alien slugs, Nathan Fillion's awesome deadpan, and its strong female characters: one, a teenage girl who would have just been so much Slug Fodder in any other movie, ends up fighting back like a pro and the second, the wife of the first guy infected by the meteorshit, who knows exactly how to tug the heartstrings of her now-mutated husband even when he's cussing her out through all the other infected townsfolk (the film transitioned so easily from monster-in-the-woods to zombie-horror that I was impressed.)
I didn't like SLITHER for a particularly gruesome tentacle stomach rape scene. It drove one part of the story, sure, but you could easily tell it was put in there, intercut with scenes of the unknowing townspeople celebrating the beginning of "hunting season", for contrast and sheer shock value. It didn't pull any gruesome punches at any time, either, so there you go.
8. CHOPPING MALL
Oh, yes. This was perfect late-night 80s teen slasher fun, involving a bunch of horny teenagers who get drunk and party at -- where else? -- a shopping mall department store after closing. I guess there was no Up To The Lake in their town like every other American town, so they had to make do with the mall.
However, this mall has apparently had so much trouble with shoplifters and horny teenagers fooling around in Linens that it has installed three security robots who are only supposed to use tasers to knock the bad guys out so they get hauled away, but after lightning strikes their "master control computer", conveniently located in a non-lightning-proof rooftop office ("Looks like it's up to Tron to fling a disc up there!") the robots decide it's more fun to kill people with their tasers, crusher killer claws and, as a bonus feature the robot company didn't mention at the beginning of the film, DEADLY LASER BEAMS PCHEW PCHEW PCHEW. Every time they kill someone, of course, they intone "THANK-YOU-HAVE-A-NICE-DAY" because it's ironic and, honestly, kinda funny.
Oh, and also, the mall is equipped with Escape-Proof Doors that lock down every night and don't open until 6:00 am the next morning, which I'm sure OHSA would just love to hear about.
Seeing as how this is an 80s flick, we get several topless girls to make our inner Joe Bob Briggs happy ("Bare breasts: four. Exploding heads: one. Dick Miller death count: one. Joe Bob sez check it out") and awesome menacing synthesizer music every time one of the killer robots comes by. Of course, as the kids get killed one by one, it turns out that only the chaste ones (including Alan from "Head Of The Class") survive, the typical moral to any horror flick worth its salt.
Along the way, though, some of the kids fight back, and it turns out we have even more useful female roles in this film to counteract Dale Arden and Julia from PUZZLEHEAD. In fact, the girls do a better job destroying the killer robots than the guys do, including one memorable scene with pro-pane and pro-pane assessories that'd make Hank Hill proud. The film ends with freeze-frame credits, and I hope the actress who played the Girl Who Had Her Head Blown Up appreciated her freeze-frame explody credit as much as we in the audience did.
This is a Roger Corman production, so Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov (both involved in DEATH RACE 2000 and ROCK & ROLL HIGH SCHOOL) show up briefly at the beginning of the film as their restauranteur characters from EATING RAOUL. Even with but I think four lines between then, they end up getting higher billing than most of the horny teenagers. I miss Paul Bartel.
Pete pointed out, however, that while this film is entitled CHOPPING MALL, at no time do any of the robots do any actual chopping. We agreed this was an egregious case of false advertising, but on the other hand, it'd have been difficult to market the film under the name LASER BEAMS PCHEW PCHEW PCHEW MALL.
9. THE STEPFORD WIVES
This was the original film, not the excessively silly Matthew Broderick/Nicole Kidman remake, and that was good, because I had never actually seen the original all the way through. Considering its contribution to our pop culture lexicon, I was very eager to watch it, especially in the context of the early 1970s and the ERA Movement (they do indeed mention bra burning, which of course happened at every single ERA rally; it's amazing our nation didn't run out of brassieres during this time of crisis) and found a film that I think both sides tried to claim as their own. Of course, the film and novel were written as a "See what'd happen if the Old Boys got their way?" object lesson, a sort of Handmaid's Tale for the Fairfield County set, but I wouldn't be surprised if more than a few chauvinists watched it and went "Hey! That was the best idea ever!" Kind of like the guys who cheered the ending of EASY RIDER.
I admit it's a great, creepy body-snatching tale seen through the eyes of Katharine Ross, the "new wife" to homey Stepford, Connecticut. Her husband quickly joins the Men's Society, obstensibly one of those fraternal Elks organizations where they meet in a lodge, put on silly hats and make animal noises at one another in the name of tradition, but of course it's much more sinister than that. And as Katharine's character watches the other liberation-minded women of Stepford suddenly become docile, husband-pleasing housewives whose only thoughts are to make sure the house is clean, the kids well-behaved, and the meal is on the table, she gets the horrible feeling that she will, indeed, be next -- but how?! (Being disposed of and then replaced by a robotic duplicate, of course.)
It should be worth noting that all the men in Stepford are severe drinkers, coping with the fact that good lord, they just had someone they obstensibly love killed off by a robotic double (the robot does the killin, of course, so no blood is on the husband's hands -- literally, at least.)
One big plot hole that nobody seems to care about is what will happen when the Stepford kids grow up and realize hey, Mom's not getting any older?
Anyway, my favorite story about this movie is that screenwriter William Goldman has famously confessed he feels responsible for keeping the film from being more successful with nine little words. In this case, the words were said to director Bryan Forbes on his decision to cast his wife, Nanette, as Carol Van Sant, one of the wives. Goldman told Forbes "She's a good actress; I think she'll do fine." The Stepford Wives were originally conceived to resemble Playboy playmates, you know, every sexist husband's ideal, but Nanette really didn't have the looks to pull that off. So the design had to be changed to make the wives all homey and New England-like with frocks and flowy dresses.
And in truth, that look makes things a lot more creepy, especially during the final scene, this great pan across several supermarket aisles as each Stepford Wife perfunctorily greets another (while a new couple in town has a little argument in the background.) The contrast is greatly heightened; if the wives had all been sexy femmebots, as originally designed, I bet the impact would've been diluted. It sure would have put more Butts In Seats, though, during its initial release.
10. SPECIAL SECRET DOUBLE PROBATION LATENIGHT MOVIE
We weren't supposed to know what this movie was before we were to see it, though we did get the author's initials and a pre-screening hint that "this may be the last time you see it on the big screen in this form." Some of us had already been speculating on what it might be, and the instant I saw a certain tree-based production logo draw itself on the screen I let out a whoop.
Turns out we got ourselves a very rare, though slightly mistinted, original print of the movie from a private collector. I still won't reveal its identity, but I'll mention the print we saw was the original, so it had its narration intact (something that had been removed in a subsequent cut.) No answers from the Peanut Gallery, now; if you know it, keep it to yourself and feel good about it. If you don't, email me or something. Just trying to be fair.
However, I was gettin real tired at this point. Well, not so much tired as very very... relaxed. A certain someone was scritching the back of my head and truth be told it felt real good at that point, especially around the neck area. My eyes started to go in and out of focus and I knew that if I were to nap, I'd be out for a good long while. So I got up and went on the traditional breakfast run for us all. (Well, us three at least. Everybody else in that theater had to fend for themselves.)
It was nearly 7 AM at this point, so I set out for both McDonalds and Mr. Crepe. Neither started serving until 7, so I had to wait a bit. I came back with food just in time to see the end credits rolling. Aw, pratz. I had always wanted to see the original ending and I had just lost my chance to.
Still, the walk outside woke me back up, the greasy carb food helped, and the nutella crepe was pretty delicious.
11. DARK STAR
This is a film that takes a bit to warm up to. We last saw the film in 1999 as a last-minute replacement, and by last-minute I really mean it -- I think this was the year that the projectionist had opened the film can of the next movie and realized we'd been shipped the actual negatives instead of a print -- or at least something was horribly wrong with the print of the movie we were supposed to watch, so something had to be done to fill time. Someone actually ran across the street to Videosmith, still in Brookline at the time, and rented a cruddy VHS copy of DARK STAR. The cruddy VHS copy was then shown on the Coolidge's cruddy video projection system (it would be a few more years before digital projection would make things a lot easier) and, faced with an incredibly murky screen image of a film that's admittedly obtuse and weird to begin with, the Marathonners didn't have much of a time of it.
However, this year, we had an actual clean print of the film, and it is much nicer to watch that way. The film involves the crew of a spaceship whose mission is to search the galaxy for "unstable planets" to destroy with their retinue of artificially-intelligent bombs, so that mankind may later come in and colonize the system. Away from Earth for so long and plagued with problems -- the commander is dead, one of the crewmembers goes into seclusion in a little observatory at the top of the ship, and there's this pet alien who gets loose -- the movie features these bearded astronauts trying to get along, stay sane, and blow up more planets. (Dan O'Bannon, the writer and one of the astronauts, used the alien-loose-in-the-ship idea as the spark for ALIEN.) After receiving several false alerts, one bomb is bound and determined to explode, regardless of the fact that it's still attached to the ship ("I have received an order to detonate. That is my order.") One of the crew then engages in a socratic dialogue with the bomb, which is one of my favorite scenes in any sci-fi film ever, because it ends up with the bomb determining that it, itself, is God.
After this film there were two more on the lineup -- MONSTER HOUSE, a CG film that nobody on the message board particularly thought was a good idea, and ROBOCOP, the movie Pete and I were ready to dig. The schedule was running long at that point, so we assumed they would forego MONSTER HOUSE entirely and go right to ROBOCOP. Unfortunately, Pete had himself a morning obligation and Renee didn't like ROBOCOP, so we decided to pack up our things and head out a bit early. It probably was the right decision, because as soon as I got home, I tapped out some things on a keyboard-like thing and promptly passed out into a nice coma.
As it turns out, they showed both movies, and MONSTER HOUSE was actually a crowd-pleaser, even if it wasn't especially science fiction, so props to those who picked it out.
All in all, it was a blast. I was so glad to share this event with Renee, and I found it awesome that we both stayed up the entire time. She is wicked awesome, antennae and all, and made the experience that much more fun. (Pete's a good movie-going companion too, sup Pete, but I do have to admit Renee is much cuter than you.)
Ah, Marathon! Next year, in Somerville.
The "new" feature this year at the Marathon was a formal science-fiction short film festival. Approximately 16 or so shorts, nothing over 20 minutes, were run at various times during the marathon. Lumped all together, they'd have been excruciating, but spaced out over several intervals, they provided some nice breaks.
I don't remember all the shorts or their names and Renee and I missed one block of shorts when we went out to dinner, but I did like a few. Most of the ones that did the best were ones that would have been well-suited as Twilight Zone episodes. ASSUMPTION was a nice story about a man who tries to convince doctors (including a scruffy-looking House clone) that he's not crazy but he is from another planet. A second Twilight-Zone short, THE PROFESSOR'S DAUGHTER, was a brilliant tale of a computer scientist whose AI program becomes, in effect, his daughter, while his real-life flesh-and-blood teenaged daughter grows more and more distant from him. His fear of letting either of them go out into the Big Wide World -- the real-life daughter gets a waitress job, and his AI program, who's gone and patterned itself after the daughter (because it determines the girl is important to the professor) wishes to be set free on the Internet so she can learn as much as she can. Metaphor? Hmm? The ending is great, though.
Another Twilight Zone-esque short was TRANSGRESSIONS, which took two of society's most favorite things -- crime and punishment voyeurism, along with the automobile -- and brought them to super depresso extremes. In this Not-Too-Distant-Future, even a small traffic violation will get you hauled off, and your arrest, torture, and imminent execution is displayed live on TV with enthusiastic commentators and constant reminders to Turn Transgressors In if you see something transgressive happening. Our scenario: A fellow accidentally bumps into a parked car while driving home. His neighbor sees it, reports it, and he gets sent off to Ye Olde Futuristic Gulag while his wife watches on TV.
During the closing credits, we see a pair of hands sabotaging the brakes on a car... think it's the wife messing around with the neighbor's car? Oh, you betcha. I liked that.
However, I was really, really, really let down by two "Close Encounters" style shorts featuring alienated teenagers who wish, hope, and think they're going to go into space and finally meet some alien beings who will accept 'em and like 'em and not chuck frisbees at their heads. The first, SPACEBOY, played it as a typical high school-type story. Spaceboy realizes the time of his rendezvous with his alien pals is... REAL SOON NOW! and tries to make preparations for his trip. The Cute Chick character alternately scorns and then believes Spaceboy, until the time of his departure arrives ... and he's hit on the head with another frisbee and guess what, he wasn't going into space all along. All right, no payoff, I can live with that.
The short that played immediately after that, ALIEN ROSE, befuddled us all. It started off as a flashbacky kind of thing, with a six-year-old girl walking with her family in the woods, her father explaining to her all about outer space, and then she hears some whispery voice calling to her, saying they'll meet her soon.
And then the little girl begins to sing.
We were ready to write the whole thing off until we flash-forward to ten years later, where the teenaged Rose is still believing that the aliens are gonna visit her ... tomorrow!
And she starts singing! AGAIN! And this time it's a no-holds barred, campy singing number involving alien backup dancers and Pete is snerking and Renee is giggling and I'm going "Okay, I'm gonna give this short a chance." We began to actually root for Rose, whose parents inexplicably get sick of her "I like aliens" behavior and send her to the only psychiatric ward in the country with windows you can open and from which have an es-cape. So off Rose goes to meet up with her alien friends at the appointed time ("If she gets hit with a frisbee," I said, "I'm so out of here.") and waits... and waits... and waits...
And then gets nothing. NO PAYOFF! NO ALIENS! Just a duet with her raver brother (who suddenly believes her) and then oh look a meteor in the sky as we pan up to THE MOST STUPID NON-PAYOFF ENDING EVER. Seriously, folks, if you're going to go through the trouble of setting up fun song and dance numbers with aliens, you SURE AS HELL better GIVE SOME ALIENS AT THE END for more singing and dancing. Now we had two unsatisfying shorts in a row.
There was also a pretty dismal CG music video to a modern synthpop tune which Renee correctly pegged as "straight out of Porsches on the Autobahn." The tune was catchy, but the computer animation was hideous -- someone got themselves a brand new copy of Poser, it seemed, and the first thing he did with it was make a model of a nearly-nekkid space babe who then dances around while disembodied CG heads of the band's singers badly lip-synch the song. Then the space babe gets impaled for no reason by yellow aliens, we boo, the video is over, the end.
We also got an interesting concept piece -- someone took footage of one of the Camberville Zombie Marches of last year and made it look like footage from an actual zombie invasion, with sounds of radio broadcasts which I think were cribbed from NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD et al. It was a great idea, but the guy ran it through some Adobe Premiere filters to make it all black-and-white, time-blurry and ended up with something that was an absolute pain on the eyes, nearly unwatchable. Still, we had a fun time trying to see if we could spot anybody we knew in the crowd, but sadly, the hot zombie babes were nowhere to be seen -- at least, not the hot zombie babes we knew. Overall, this piece worked best as a YouTube clip, if anything, and even featured an egregiously long credit sequence that all YouTubers love to add.
Anyway, THE PROFESSOR'S DAUGHTER won the shorts competition, a win I think was well-deserved.
And that's all I'm gonna say about that cause there ain't no more to say. Not today, at least.